Twitter guide for election officials

A guide for creating year-round content to engage and inform voters using Twitter

Twitter is one of the most well known social media platforms out there, but how can it be used for elections?

Chances are good that you’ve considered using it before, but maybe you don’t know how hashtags work, or you need a social media policy. Or, perhaps you’re a Twitter-holic and you’re just looking for new ways to measure your success. Whatever your level of Twitter expertise, these resources are meant for you.

With these materials and a spirit of fun and adventure, you’ll be able to use Twitter to engage voters and inform the public about the important work that goes on in your election office.

What you'll need

  • Computer or mobile device with internet access
  • Twitter account for your election office
  • Square image for profile photo (maybe a county seal or your election office logo)

Table of contents

  1. Twitter overview
  2. How to join Twitter
  3. How to customize your Twitter profile
  4. How to send a Tweet

Twitter overview

Twitter is a platform people can use to share information about anything: sports teams, social groups, businesses, celebrities, and organizations. When you create a Twitter account, your timeline will provide a scrolling list of short information updates from the people and groups you follow. You can think of Twitter as your own personalized news feed about the things you most want to keep up with.

Like other social media you can access Twitter using your favorite internet browser (e.g., Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome) or by downloading an app to your phone.

Unlike other social media, you can also use Twitter simply via text message.

Receiving information

You receive updates from a person/group on your Twitter page by subscribing to that person or group. This is called “following.” Here are some examples of organizations on Twitter you can follow:

You can also subscribe to lists on Twitter. Lists are curated based on a specific topic or interest. For example, you can subscribe to ELECTricity’s Twitter list of state and local election offices.

Creating information

You can create your own updates to share with friends who follow you by creating short messages (140 characters or less). This is called “Tweeting.”

Here’s a Tweet from the Wake County (NC) Board of Elections:

Where do Tweets appear?

When you Tweet, your message is publicly posted on your Twitter profile. Anyone who visits your Twitter profile will be able to see your Tweets.

People who have chosen to follow your Twitter account will see your Tweets in their Twitter timeline. Likewise, you’ll be able to see Tweets from the people you follow in your timeline.

Sharing other users’ information

In addition to creating your own original Tweets, you can share Tweets from other Twitter users. This is called “Retweeting.”

Joining Twitter

  1. Open your internet browser and go to www.twitter.com.
  2. In the top right corner click Sign-up.
  3. Type your name and email address, then type a password of your choice.
  4. The next screen will prompt you to enter your phone number. You can choose to provide Twitter with your phone number on this screen or click Skip (located below the Next button).
  5. Now, choose a username. Your username is a key part of your identity on Twitter. It is displayed when people add you to a conversation. Your username can be up to 15 characters in length. Later you will have a chance to choose a display name that can be slightly longer.
  6. After you click the Create my account button, you will receive an email confirmation. Follow the instructions in the email to activate your account.

Once you have confirmed your email address, you’re ready to tweet! You can also start following people, creating information, and sharing information about your office.

Customizing your Twitter Profile

When you are logged in you have the ability to connect with other Twitter users right out of the box. But wait! We recommend that you first customize your profile so the world knows more about you and your important work. Because, let’s face it, no one wants to follow an egg.

Step 1: Find your profile

  • After logging into Twitter, click on the profile and settings egg in the top right corner to get to your profile.
  • Select view profile from the drop-down menu.
  • Now click Edit profile.

From this screen you can add or edit your:

  • Header photo (recommended dimensions are 1500×500 pixels)
  • Profile photo (recommended dimensions are 400×400 pixels)
  • Name
  • Bio (maximum 160 characters)
  • Location
  • Website
  • Theme color
  • Birthday (generally not applicable for an election office)

Step 2: Add a profile picture

  • Click Add a profile photo
  • Click Upload photo to add the image of your choice.

You have an important decision to make here. What image do you feel best represents you and your office? A safe choice is an American flag, your local government seal, or a universal voting image (ballot box, check mark, etc). You can also use your smartphone camera to snap a panoramic picture of a polling place or your office. Remember, this image is a virtual first impression on Twitter.

  • Click apply.

Step 3: Keep customizing

Below your profile picture you can edit your name, add a bio, your office location, and add a link to your website. You should also add a header photo to complete your profile.

When you’re happy with your customizations, click Save changes.

Step 4: Preparing to include alternative text

In order to include alternative text with the images you Tweet, you will want to enable your image descriptions. While logged into your Twitter account in your browser:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Click on Accessibility.
  • Enable Compose image descriptions.
  • Click on Save changes.

You can also enable this option if you use the official Twitter application on an iOS or Android device. See Making images accessible for people on Twitter for more details.

Once you have changed this setting, you will see an “add description” button when you upload an image to a Tweet. A growing number of third-party clients are providing this functionality, so you may discover that that is an option, too.

Sending a Tweet

  • When you’re ready to write a Tweet, click the compose a Tweet button.
  • In the box, type up to 140 characters.
  • When you’re ready to release the Tweet into the world, press the Tweet button.

Table of contents

  1. Creating compelling content
  2. Creating a content calendar
  3. Sample Tweets for election officials
  4. Twitter terminology
  5. Twitter analytics
  6. Account management with Hootsuite
  7. Resources

Creating compelling content

Now that we’ve covered the basic mechanics of using Twitter, let’s talk about content, or what you should Tweet and when. We’ll also cover how your election office can manage and measure the success of your Twitter use.

Tips for quality content

Twitter is a fast-paced platform. People expect to be able to quickly scroll through their timeline and take in information in bite-sized chunks. This means Twitter is a platform where you see a greater quantity of information from users then, say, on Facebook.

Tweet multiple times each day. Year-round.

Marketing experts suggest that you tweet at least 5 times a day. It’s not always feasible as an election office to tweet that often, but there are some strategies for finding a steady stream of information to share.

First, the Retweet is your friend. Did someone else Tweet something that you think is relevant to your voters? Use the Retweet button to share.

Second, you don’t always need to Tweet about election deadlines. Twitter is a great platform for sharing the human side of your office or giving behind the scenes glimpses into how elections really work.

Twitter is also a great place to show your office’s personality, especially if you can bring in things happening in the world. Check out this back and forth between the Denver Colorado Election Office and the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, about Superbowl 50:

Use images

Twitter analyzed millions of Tweets to better understand what makes some Tweets more popular than others. One key finding was that including photos in Tweets boosts Retweets by an average of 62%. This is no surprise: people are drawn to images.

As with graphics on your website, you’ll want to include alternative text in Tweets with images so that those who cannot see the photos will understand what they convey. You can find more information about making your Twitter content more accessible in the resources section.

When your Tweet’s text may not make the point of the picture clear enough to all of your followers, be sure to include alternative text (of no more than 420 characters) to tell blind followers a little more about the image you’ve chosen.

Use hashtags

Hashtags are a great way to reach beyond your own followers. People use hashtags before keywords in their Tweets to categorize those tweets and make them easier to find using Twitter search. Clicking on a hashtag lets you quickly find all Tweets using it. Check out #ElectionTools and #BeReady16 as examples.

Capitalizing the first letter of each word in a hashtag can make it easier for screen reader users to understand, as well as making it easier for everyone to read.

When you use a hashtag, perhaps your Tweets can be found as part of a broader conversation by a greater number of users. Best practices recommend using no more than two hashtags per Tweet.

Creating a content calendar

Now that you’re ready to share lots of compelling content, it’s a best practice to make a content calendar. A content calendar is a way to plan what your office will tweet for the weeks and months ahead, keeping in mind important events and deadlines.

Taking the time to plan ahead will help ensure that you don’t miss opportunities to engage and inform you voters. It also provides structure for any approvals you need to get ahead of pressing the Tweet button.

We’ve created a template for your content calendar. (Google Sheet)

Interested in an easy way to find things happening in the world that you can Tweet about? Check out Twitter’s #OwnTheMoment planner.

Sample Tweets for election officials

To help you get started, we’ve drafted a few election-related tweets for you. Feel free to remix and reuse to fit your election office’s needs. You can include a photo with a description, a link, and/or a hashtag when it’s relevant to your message.

Keep the order of information in mind when composing a Tweet. We suggest message, link, then hashtag. By putting links and hashtags after your message, it makes it easier to read the message.

What’s on your ballot

  • Learn who and what is on your ballot. Visit → url.gov
  • Getting ready for the [specific] election. Ballots arrived today! (include pic of ballots)
  • Nerdy is cool again. Get educated about what’s on your ballot here: url.gov

Voter Registration

  • Are you registered to vote? Find out here: url.gov
  • Voter registration deadline is coming up in XX days. Are you registered? url.gov
  • Did you procrastinate & forget to register to vote? Don’t worry! You can register & vote on the same day in [STATE]. Find where here: url.gov
  • Did you know that you can register to vote online? Register from the comfort of your couch here: url.gov
  • Overwhelmed by your to do list? Shorten that list and check registering to vote off today: url.gov

Vote-by-Mail

  • The deadline to request an absentee ballot is XX days away. Have you requested one? url.gov
  • Tired of all the political calls? Vote early or absentee to end the nagging. Find our more here: url.gov

Early Voting

  • Early Voting starts today/is open. Be an early bird & cast your ballot today! Find where here: url.gov
  • Grab your ID (or your friend?) & come on down to vote early today! Find where here: url.gov
  • Tired of all the political calls? Vote early or absentee to end the nagging. Find our more here: url.gov

Poll workers

  • We hire [#] poll workers every election. Join the ranks! Learn more: url.gov
  • Upset by all the craziness in Congress? Take control of your government today and sign up to be a poll worker. url.gov

New laws / general voter information

  • Confused by all the voting law changes? We got you covered. Visit our site for updates on the latest requirements url.gov
  • Friends don’t let friends forget to vote. Get all the info you need to be a good friend here: url.gov
  • My favorite thing about voting is the “I voted” sticker. What’s your favorite part of Democracy? Get informed here: url.gov

Twitter terminology

As you’ve probably noticed, Twitter has a language all its own. If you are new to Twitter the symbols and shortcuts can be intimidating, so we’ve put together this glossary to get you started.

Symbol or abbreviation Definition
@ The “at” sign is used to mention another Twitter account (e.g., @TheElectionBuzz). Within a tweet, it becomes a link to that user’s profile. You may see it used in a geographical sense, such as “I’m @ the office,” but this is just text-speak and not Twitter-specific.
RT Retweet. Forwarding another user’s Tweet, usually with an added comment, letting the “RT” abbreviation mark the end of the forwarder’s comment and the start of the original tweet.
MT or MRT Modified tweet or modified retweet. This means the same as “Retweet” but used to show that you’ve edited the original tweet, usually due to space restrictions.
HT Occasionally styled H/T, “hat tip” or “heard through” is a way to give a polite nod to the person who originally shared the content you are tweeting. Similar to giving someone a “via” (which is a phrase also used on Twitter) a HT will be followed by an @ mention. For example, “Useful article – www.urlurl.com. HT @Bob.”
# The hash (or pound) symbol is used to highlight keywords, topics, events or even emotions in a tweet. Using a hashtag turns the word or phrase into a link that lets you see other tweets containing the same tag. Examples: “Great weather for an #election,” “Watching the #ElectionResults roll in,” “Last day to register to vote. #DontForget”
ICYMI “In case you missed it.” Often employed when a Twitter user retweets his or her own content from earlier.
CC CC’s literal meaning is “carbon copy.” As with memos and emails, CC is a way of ensuring a Twitter user sees certain content. Used with an @ mention — for example, “Interesting article – www.urlurl.com – cc @Bob” — it will help draw a Tweet to someone’s attention. This is similar to “tagging” someone in a post or comment on Facebook.
FF FF stands for “Follow Friday,” a way to give an endorsement to other Twitter users by suggesting that people follow them. You will typically see this as #FF and, interesting enough, may see it on days other than Friday.
DM Direct message. A way to privately message someone who is following you on Twitter. As the only way to have a confidential conversation on the platform, it’s usual to see public tweets with “DM me for more info,” or “I’ll DM you details,” etc. As a government agency, you should keep in mind it’s a smart practice to never disclose private information on social media.
TBT “Throw Back Thursday,” or a fun way to share a vintage picture or fact.

For a more comprehensive list of Twitter terms, check out the Twitter Glossary.

Twitter analytics

The best way to make informed decisions about what to Tweet and when to Tweet is by paying attention to your own data. Historically this has been a daunting task, but Twitter now has a free analytics tool called the Twitter Activity Dashboard built right into your account.

The Twitter Activity Dashboard allows you to:

  • See how people engage with your Tweets in real time.
  • Understand and compare your Tweet activity and followers over time.
  • Get a detailed view of the number of Retweets, replies, likes, follows, or clicks at Tweet receives.
  • Gain insights into who your audience is, including demographics, interests, and devices used.
  • Download your Twitter metrics.

To gain access to your Twitter analytics, while you are logged into your account, simply visit www.analytics.twitter.com.

A view of the ELECTricity Twitter analytics dashboard

You can even download your Twitter analytics into a CSV!

 

Choosing what to measure

While the Twitter Activity Dashboard simplifies the process of a capturing data about your Twitter activity, it’s only helpful if you know what to measure and why.

There are two main types of measurement for activity on social media:

  1. Ongoing analytics: Ongoing activity related to your Twitter account over time.
  • The Twitter Activity Dashboard shows you a snapshot of ongoing activity over a defined period of time including:
    • Number of times you have Tweeted from your account
    • Tweet impressions, or the number of times your Tweets have been seen
    • The number of times your Twitter profile has been visited
    • The number of mentions you’ve received from others on Twitter
    • Total number of followers
  1. Campaign specific metrics: Activity related to a specific campaign or event with a clear beginning and end date.

Running a Twitter Campaign

For our purposes, a Twitter campaign is a planned set of activities over a defined period of time with a specific goal. For example, you might plan a Twitter campaign with a goal of registering new voters in the 15 days leading up to the registration deadline. Or you might plan a Twitter campaign to educate voters about how a new law will impact the voting process in the weeks leading up to its implementation. While each of these campaigns have different objectives, the planning process should be the same.

Twitter calls activities a “campaign” if you buy Twitter ads to promote your activities. While Twitter ads might be useful for your campaign, they are not necessary to run a campaign.

Step 1: Define your goal

The first step in running a successful social media campaign is defining your goals.

First, define what you are trying to accomplish. In the examples above the goals were registering new voters or raising awareness about a law change. You might also be trying to recruit new poll workers or educating your voters about new equipment.

Also take this time to define the time period of your campaign.

Step 2: Choose appropriate metrics

Now that you’ve defined the goal of your campaign, you should choose the appropriate metrics to track to understand if you’re achieving your goals. Here are a few suggested behaviors to measure based on common goals of Twitter campaigns (adapted from Kissmetrics blog on social media measurement):

If you want to measure awareness, then use metrics like:

  • Volume – the number of times you Tweet
  • Impressions – the number of people who see your Tweets
  • Amplification – the number of Retweets

These will help to understand how far your message is spreading.

If you want to measure engagement, then use metrics like:

  • Retweets
  • Replies – the number of people responding to your Tweets
  • Engagements – the total number of Retweets, replies, likes, follows, and clicks on a given Tweet
  • Engagement rate – total number of engagements divided by the total number of impressions

These will help you understand how people are participating, how often they are participating, and in what forms they are participating.

If your goal is to drive traffic to your website, then track:

These metrics will help you understand if people are moving through social media to your website and what they do once they’re on your site.

Step 3: Measure

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to measure, use the Twitter Activity Dashboard to track the activities of each Tweet in your campaign on a daily basis. It may make sense to set up a simple Excel spreadsheet or document to record these numbers throughout your campaign.

Step 4: Evaluate

At intervals throughout your campaign you should evaluate your progress. How do your numbers compare to what you expected? What content has been most popular? How does this particular campaign compare to similar ones you’ve run in the past or similar campaigns a comparable jurisdiction has run? Are there changes you’d make to timing or content in the future?

Step 5: Adjust and do it again!

The final step is to evaluate your evaluation framework. Determine whether, in the future, you’d use the same metrics for a campaign with the same goal, what you would add, and what metrics were not useful to track.

Now plan another campaign!

Account management

Managing multiple social media accounts can feel hectic, especially when you are making emergency announcements. If your election office uses Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to communicate with the public, consider using a social media management tool to organize your accounts in one dashboard. An example of a social media management platform is Hootsuite.

A user adds information Streams to their Hootsuite dashboard

Using Hootsuite, you can view multiple sources of social media content from one dashboard.

Using the free version of Hootsuite, you can manage 3 social media accounts. If you have more than 3 accounts, you will need to upgrade to the Pro version of Hootsuite for $9.99 per month. The basic benefits of the free version include giving you the ability to:

  • manage 3 social media accounts
  • schedule messages
  • track basic analytics like Twitter follower growth over time, Facebook likes, and the popularity of your links

Once you set up an account and log in, Hootsuite will guide you through the basic features of the platform. This is your opportunity to connect up to 3 of your social media accounts and add your Streams.

While Hootsuite is optimized for Twitter, you can select your Facebook and Instagram feeds so they are displayed in your Streams, putting all of your social content on one dashboard.

If you are using a content calendar for your social media outreach, go ahead and schedule your messages with Hootsuite. The scheduling feature is found in the compose window on the bottom right of the text box.

A user accesses the schedule feature of Hootsuite by clicking the calendar icon

Need to send a Tweet on Saturday but not in the office? Schedule it using Hootsuite.

Hootsuite has Ow.ly, a popular link shortener, built right into the dashboard. Why should you use a link shortener? Most importantly, when you use a link shortner, you will be able to track the popularity of the links you share across social media.

Whenever you include a link in your message you can click Shrink just to the right of the link in the compose window. And then you can access the stats of the link and other data by clicking Analytics on the left side menu.

For additional reading about Hootsuite and social media strategies, check out the Hootsuite blog.

Resources